Lashings of love lift patients’ spirits
Meets the remarkable Clarice May, Queenstown’s queen of kitchen and kindness...
To liken colourful Queenstown 95-year-old Clarice May to a breath of fresh air would be a gross understatement. She is more like a warm, uplifting breeze of awe-inspiring positivity.
One of Southland’s best-known bowel cancer survivors, and believed to be its oldest, Clarice has spent the 55 years since her own diagnosis, aged 40, helping other patients to get the best out of life. That’s her specialty and what she does best.
She’s been rising before dawn ever since to bake her famous shortbread, muffins, meringues and ginger nuts to deliver to cancer patients, in hospital and at home. The baking comes served with plenty of good practical advice and a warm, cheery smile.
Immaculately-presented with full colour co-ordinated nails, make-up and matching cardies, Clarice is always dressed as brightly as she sounds: ‘‘I just love baking and I love doing something for people that they like.’’
Failing eyesight means she could no longer drive this year to deliver her lashings of love to patients around the Wakatipu.
When you’ve turned out a multitude of muffins like Clarice, failing eyesight is no barrier to being a blessing.
‘‘It doesn’t bother me a bit. I can go like a dingo in my kitchen.’’
For those she can’t reach firsthand, Clarice’s encouragement comes in the form of her prolific hand-written letters, complete with uplifting quotes.
Since her successful colostomy surgery soon after her diagnosis, she has written more than 20 letters a week to cancer survivors, and other sick and lonely people, all over New Zealand.
‘‘I still send 15 letters a week,’’ she said. ‘‘I just think we should be looking after our neighbours.’’
For many years Clarice was a familiar face at Southland Hospital, where staff would call on her to encourage specific bowel cancer patients, and instruct them about how to get the best out of a colostomy bag.
‘‘[Husband] Bill went to Rotary in Invercargill one night a week and he’d drop me at Kew [Hospital] to Ward 9 to help patients. At one stage I had nine at once.’’
By the time she retired to Queenstown with husband Bill in the 1980s, Clarice had already been awarded the QSM (Queen’s Service Medal) for her services to bowel cancer patients.
Lifting the spirits of those trying to accept a diagnosis was her specialty.
‘‘I’d give them a pep talk,’’ she said.
Eating the right food was paramount, and Clarice was an early advocate of probiotics, long before the medical fraternity, eating and making her own yoghurt from fresh, raw cow’s milk produced on the May’s farm near Winton.
Three cups of hot water every morning was another must – good advice given to her by a nurse during her own initial six-week hospital stretch.
Born and raised on a farm in Central Otago’s Ida Valley, Clarice trained as a nurse in Napier, before meeting husband Bill at a post-World War II ball. They farmed near Winton, where they raised their five children, before retiring to Queenstown.
Clarice’s wisdom is caring, but practical.
‘‘You’ve got your health and you’ve got to get on and be positive,’’ she said.
She may be Southland’s oldest bowel cancer survivor, but at 95, Clarice is still a box of birds.
‘‘In myself I feel I could push a bus over. I never get depressed, never feel lonely. I’m a very fortunate person, I think.’’
A strong Christian faith has been solid through life’s ordeals.
While the woman known in Queenstown for celebrating her 90th birthday with a pool party finally decided to hang up her togs this winter, Clarice still meets ‘The Swimming Girls’ for coffee after their weekly morning dip.
Her recent 95th was celebrated with a beautiful cake, but this time Clarice was spoiled. The large cake was ordered in. It was great to have ‘‘something that I hadn’t made’’, she said.
However, for Clarice May baking and caring for others is simply what life is all about. ‘‘I tell people they should treat age like a bank. You withdraw from life what you have put in.’’
Clarice May at home in Frankton with some of her tasty treats: ‘‘I just love baking and I love doing something for people that they like.’’